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by 1. The programme This edition of Horizon was about how Jimmy Doherty, a pig farmer and one-time scientist who was first seen on TV as the subject of the documentary about his farming tribulations in ‘Jimmy’s Farm’, went to the US, Argentina and Uganda to find out if genetically modified crops could feed the world, or if they were a technology that could start an environmental disaster. 2. The complaint The programme failed to meet the requirements of due impartiality in several ways. Stage 1 The complainant wrote initially to BBC Complaints on 6 December 2008 The complainant said he did not believe that the programme was a balanced review of GM crops. “Subtly devised and edited its overall presentation and supply of information served biotech aims to try to rehabilitate GM in the minds of the British public. The programme appears to have been constructed under the guidance of person(s) involved in GM biotech of its promotion …” The complainant said the programme served to resurrect discredited claims and pretensions for GM crops “ … and failed to give balancing time/footage to serious scientific findings of harm, legally enforced revelations of damage found in GM producers own animal feeding studies and farmers’ bad experiences of GM in India.” The complainant said that the published evidence in the case of Indian states was so extensive that it could only have been wilfully ignored by those involved in framing the programme. The complainant went on to list a number of specific examples. The complainant concluded that Horizon
“ … should take the trouble to resist producing industry framed propaganda dressed up to give an appearance of ‘balance’. If Horizon insists on obliging big money linked influences then it’s time the BBC bosses floated it off to the commercial channels where its infomercials might sit more appropriately.” Jonathan Carberry, BBC Complaints, replied to the complainant on 12 January 2009 Mr Carberry said that he understood that the complainant believed the programme was biased in favour of the GM crops industry. He noted the specific examples the complainant had provided. Mr Carberry said the question of GM crops and “ … whether it’s a technology we should support is one of the most topical scientific questions of the moment.” Mr Carberry added that in recent months, the debate over GM crops had reached “ … an intensity beyond anything seen in the last decade.” Mr Carberry said that for the past ten years the prevailing public opinion of GM crops had been negative. But with the world in the midst of a food crisis: “ … we felt it was the perfect time for Horizon to cover the issue and try to bring some clarity to the issue by seeing how the evidence supports each side of the debate.” Mr Carberry said that although the complainant disagreed: “ … we believe the film was carefully balanced to take in both sides of the GM debate.” Mr Carberry went on to say that Jimmy Doherty met and interviewed prominent anti-GM campaigners in both Europe and the US. Mr Carberry added that the programme also investigated the evidence for both the environmental and health risks of GM and “ … given those risks the programme’s conclusion is that any future development of GM should be done with great care.” The complainant replied to Jonathan Carberry, BBC Complaints on 12 January 2009 The complainant said he did not accept the rejection of his complaint. The complainant went on to respond to the points made in the letter from BBC Complaints. 2
The complainant responded to the paragraph in which Mr Carberry said that the debate about GM crops had ‘reached an intensity beyond anything seen in the last decade.” The complainant said this was because “ … the industry, its partner institutions, practitioners and promoters are cynically misrepresenting causation of major events to exploit them as justifications for their hazardous technology and to overcome consumer reluctance. The co-option of willing media channels serves that end.” The complainant then went on to address the claim that this had been the perfect time for Horizon to cover the issue and his assertion that the film was ‘carefully balanced to take in both sides of the GM debate.’ The complainant said that the timing was perfect for the industry “ … but distinctly the broadcast gave carefully selected aspects which GM advocates wish to present but certainly did not properly expose both side of each example in a balanced way.” The complainant next considered Mr Carberry’s statement that Jimmy Doherty had ‘met and interviewed prominent anti-GM campaigners in both Europe and the US.” The complainant said that the programme did not given a balanced amount of time “ … or include the most relevant questions. This was token attempt at balance.”(sic) The complainant went on to respond to the programme’s conclusion that ‘any future development of GM should be done with great care.’ The complainant said that the programme had deliberately omitted to show the extensive negative consequences and events for the given cases. “You fully avoided the major catastrophes created by GM agricultural applications … many serious adverse animal GM feeding studies hidden but now exposed …” The complainant also drew attention to the “ … hype and ‘tragedy’ of the JIC’s ‘ GM purple tomato’ – I have learned that for two years there has been a naturally bred Italian purple tomato, with the proclaimed traits. Why was this not mentioned?” The complainant concluded by saying that
“ … the programme shows how easily Horizon becomes a conduit of advocacy for a £multibillion problematic technology and misleads viewers.” Ciaran McConnell, BBC Complaints, replied to the complainant on 5 February 2009 Ms McConnell acknowledged receipt of the complainant’s letter and said it would be responded to as soon as possible. Gemma McAleer, BBC Complaints, replied to the complainant on 17 March 2009 Ms McAleer said the complainant’s concerns had been raised with the producer of the programme. The programme producer said the aim of the programme had been to provide a balanced overview of the science relating to GM crop technology. “It did not set out to investigate the political and social issues …” The programme producer said the programme was carefully researched and cleared through the BBC editorial policy department. The programme producer said the programme appreciated there were passionate and deeply held views on both side of the GM debate. The programme producer went on to quote the programme conclusions which said “I’m still not sure we need GM crops in the developed world … crops that are being grown at the moment are not going to save the world. They’re good for farmers and they’re good profits – but while there are lingering doubts about the safety of GM, I think we need to proceed very carefully …” The programme producer added a final conclusion that said that any real benefits “ … are 10, 15, 20, 50 years in the future …” and went on to say that it was therefore difficult to see how “ …you can interpret the programme as being unbalanced in favour of GM foods.” The programme producer said the conclusion that Jimmy Doherty reached at the end of the programme – that supported continued research into GM crops – was not an unusual one. “Given that it is generally accepted that food production has to increase to feed a growing population it is not unreasonable to suggest that all 4
technologies with the potential to help should be carefully explored, including transgenic technology.” The programme producer said this same view had been widely expressed elsewhere and went on to give examples and web links. The programme producer told the complainant that if he continued to have concerns with the programme, he should get in touch with the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). Stage 2 The complainant wrote to the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), the second stage of the BBC’s complaints procedure on 24 March 2009 The complainant said that links to endorsements of the pretensions of GM cropping did not affect the complaint he had made. The complainant said that he had noted the response claiming ‘balance’ when the concluding words of the programme were quoted, but the complainant added “ … a 45 minute programme’s ‘ balance’ is not determined by a couple of cautionary sentences from its presenter.” The complainant went on to say that “The structure and selected examples of GM cropping was a parade of unchallenged supposed GM ‘successes’. Interviews with dissenters were wholly unmatched against these ‘GM wonder stories.’ ” The complainant said that no examples of major GM problems, contaminations or large failures affecting “ … these very crops were included, let alone even bigger ones with other crops. Major issues attending the particular given examples were not highlighted.” The complainant concluded “This Horizon piece is four star biotech pr and has more than the fingerprints of person(s) involved in the industry, John Innes Centre or like institution. Horizon does not acknowledge them in its production …” The complainant added “Pretence of balance in programme making is not good enough.”
Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) replied to the complainant on 25 March 2009 Mr Tregear said his understanding of the complaint was that “ … the programme lacked balance and impartiality because it ‘ was a parade of unchallenged gm successes’ ”. Mr Tregear added that he believed the relevant guidelines were those on Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion, including the sections on Achieving Impartiality and “Controversial Subjects”. The section on Personal View and Authored Programme could also be relevant. The complainant replied to Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) on 25 March 2009 The complainant said that while it might be convenient to reduce his complaint to one phrase, this was not acceptable to the complainant. “I do not find the efforts so far at dismissing my points of objection as valid … Please read and understand all of my submissions. They have not been diminished by earlier responses from your process.” Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) replied to the complainant on 26 March 2009 Mr Tregear apologised if the complainant believed that the summary of his complaint gave the impression that the points the complainant had made in previous correspondence were dismissed. Mr Tregear said that in order to ensure that he had understood the complainant’s specific concerns, he would attempt to outline them. Mr Tregear went on to say that in essence, the complainant appeared to be suggesting that the programme had failed to meet the requirements for due impartiality in several ways. Mr Tregear went on to list eight concerns. The first concern was that “ … the editing of the programme and the information included served ‘biotech aims to try to rehabilitate GM in the minds of the British public’. It presented aspects of the GM debate which the industry wishes to present but did not expose both sides to the same examination – either in time on air or in the nature of the challenging questions posed.” The second concern was that 6
“Contributors such as JIC Norwich, Doug Gurian-Sherman etc resulted in a lack of balance in the presentation of an appropriate range of views. Their areas of expertise and knowledge were not clearly presented to the viewer, resulting in a misleading impression being given.” The third concern was that “The programme presented ‘discredited claims and pretensions for GM crops’ and failed to balance this with ‘serious scientific findings of harm; such as experiences in India, North and South America.’ ” Mr Tregear went on to say that the complainant said this evidence was “ …‘wilfully ignored’ or ‘deliberately omitted’ e.g. rice contamination, adverse animal GM feeding studies.” The fourth concern was that “The filming locations and scripts concentrated on ‘claimed legitimacy for GM agriculture’ but failed to balance this with other examples.” Mr Tregear went on to quote the complainant who claimed “Not one experienced serious negative was shown.” The fifth concern was that “The programme did not explain the problematic consequences of producing GM food – the emphasis was on the environmental and health benefits e.g. references to the sequences on sausages and purple tomatoes.” The sixth concern was that “ … no mention was made of the benefits of crops developed without GM methods e.g. drought” The seventh concern was that “ … the programme gave the misleading impression that GM crops will solve the world’s food shortage without explaining that food aid is often used for political ends to encourage dependency.” The eighth concern was that “ … the programme amounted to ‘industry framed propaganda’ ”.
Mr Tregear concluded that he intended to consider the points the complainant had raised against the Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion. The complainant replied to Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) on 26 March 2009 The complainant said he wanted to make some adjustments (shown in italics) to the summary Mr Tregear had sent him. On the first point, the complainant made the following adjustments “ … the composition and editing of the programme and the content served ‘ biotech aims to try to rehabilitate GM in the minds of the British public’. It gave selected aspects of GM activity which the industry wishes to present as proof of a safe, environmentally and economically sound technology, but did not expose the illustrated examples to available contradictory evidence on all counts. The programme carefully avoided many known different GM crop as well as same GM crop failures.” On the second point, the complainant made the following adjustments “The FDA experience and inside regulatory knowledge of Doug Gurian-Sherman was not declared, nor was his more extensive knowledge of risk and harm of GM food ingestion elicited. This contributed to lack of balance in the presentation of an appropriate range of views. Areas of expertise and knowledge were not clearly presented to the viewer, resulting in a misleading impression being given. Similarly interviews with Lord Melchett did not ask or attempt to draw out the greater factual basis which discredits GM agriculture.” On the third point, the complainant made the following adjustments “The programme presented ‘discredited claims and pretensions for GM crops’ and failed to balance this with ‘serious scientific findings and extensive human experience of harm’, such as in Asia, North and South America. Also major incidents of unapproved GM rice and corn contamination, involving extremely high cost corrective measures. Many adverse animal GM feeding studies, human health harm, livestock deaths, below par and even zero yields. The absence of such evidence from the programme indicates something very odd about the research and planning for it. It suggests influence other than chance or inadvertence.” The complainant agreed with the fourth point. On the fifth point, the complainant made the following adjustments “The programme did not explain the problematic consequences of producing GM food – claims were made as fact for claimed environmental and health advantages e.g. to the sausage tasting and forlorn GM purple tomatoes, without
reference to successfully produced non GM ones. Ample statistics discredit yield claims for current GM crops.” On the sixth point, the complainant made the following adjustments “ … No mention was made of the benefit of special trait crops already developed without GM methods e.g. drought tolerance” On the seventh point, the complainant made the following adjustments “ … the programme taken en bloc generates the misleading impression that GM technology is a safe mode of cropping with yield advantage.” On the eighth point, the complainant made the following adjustments “ … it is ‘industry framed propaganda ‘ dressed up to pass as balanced.” “ … the history and conduct of JIC in the development and promotion of GM seeds, their contractual relationships with the major biotech companies is unmentioned.” The complainant added another four points. The first of the point added by the complainant was “ … the history and conduct of JIC in the development and promotion of GM seeds, their contractual relationships with the major biotech companies is unmentioned.” The second point added by the complainant was “The external guiding personality/ies in the design of the programme leading to the inclusion and editing of the particular material is not openly declared. Who were they? Why are they not declared? ” The complainant added that the earlier responses to his complaint did not address this. The third point added by the complainant was “The concluding brief caveats from Jimmy Doherty do not erase from the viewers’ mind the preceding bulk of the programme.” The fourth point added by the complainant was “ … suggesting that everything is fine with GM agriculture, hindered only by uninformed opponents. By failing to properly cover the factual challenges to the GM idyll the Horizon programme itself reinforces this.” 9
Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) replied to the complainant on 16 April 2009 Mr Tregear told the complainant the Programme Producer, Mr Lachmann was filming out of the country and was not back in the UK until May 5. Mr Tregear said it was important to discuss the points the complainant had raised with the programme producer to give him an opportunity to respond. Mr Tregear added he might not be able to conclude his investigation within the timeframe originally set out. The complainant replied to Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) on 16 April 2009 The complainant said he wanted to repeat a question which he had posed when first making his complaint which had not been answered “Is Horizon producer Michael Lachmann related to Sir Peter Lachmann?” Colin Tregear. Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) replied to the complainant on 16 April 2009 Mr Tregear said he did not know the answer to the complainant’s question but “ … do not believe it is relevant to my investigation … Mr Lachmann’s role in the making of this programme was clearly a significant one but I don’t think it would be appropriate to draw any kind of conclusion about his motives or judgment based on who he may or may not be related to.” Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) wrote to the complainant on 14 May 2009. The complaint was considered in relation to the Editorial Guidelines, in particular the guidelines on Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion. The ECU did not uphold the complaint on the following grounds: Mr Tregear said that he had watched the programme, discussed the complainant’s complaint with the programme makers and carried out some additional research into the points the complainant had raised. Mr Tregear told the complainant he would deal with each of his specific points in turn. Mr Tregear also noted that the complainant’s
“ … overarching concern is that this programme failed to meet the required level of impartiality..” Mr Tregear went on to say that it was worth noting the specific section of the guideline on Achieving Impartiality. “This makes it clear that achieving due impartiality depends on a variety of factors including the type of programme, the subject matter, and the approach that the programme takes.” Mr Tregear said that in this case, he believed this raised two specific issues which were relevant “ … the authored nature of the programme and the controversial subject matter.” Mr Tregear said the programme was presented as a “ … personal investigation into the issues raised by GM food by the farmer, Jimmy Doherty, who is well known for promoting traditional methods of farming.” Mr Tregear said this approach was signposted at the start of the programme when Mr Doherty explained: “Now I love the way that I farm. But I am a realist and I realise that the way I produce food won’t feed the world. But a lot of people think the only way to do that is to use biotechnology, GM crops. And I’m not sure about that. I don’t know if it’s safe or not. I don’t know what the consequences are. But what if the answer to feeding the hungry is to use biotechnology?” Mr Tregear said he believed the audience would therefore have been aware that the views expressed by Mr Doherty, and the conclusions he reached, were his own, based on the people he spoke to and the information he gained. Mr Tregear continued “ … the second point is that the personal nature of Mr Doherty’s ‘ investigation’ has to be set against the subject matter.” Mr Tregear said the issue of GM food was one which was highly contentious and prompted strong opinions. It was also a subject on which there was a wide range of opinion. “I therefore think that regardless of Mr Doherty’s personal impressions, it was necessary for the programme to ensure that the programme was fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and that it presented an objective
analysis of the issues, recognising there is a wide range of views on the subject.” Mr Tregear added that the issue of what to include in a programme had long been regarded as a matter of editorial judgement for programme makers and not something on which it was appropriate for the ECU to express an opinion. “The only exception .. is where the failure to include certain facts or points of view leads to a lack of even-handedness and objectivity.” Mr Tregear said he therefore proposed to address the complainant’s concerns about what was excluded from the programme on that basis. Mr Tregear said he would address each of the complainant’s specific points, using the summary that was previously agreed, although in a slightly changed order and with some points taken together. Mr Tregear addressed the first three points: 1. The programme was “industry framed propaganda” dressed up to pass as balanced. 2. The composition and editing of the programme and the content served “biotech aims to try to rehabilitate GM in the minds of the British public”. It gave selected aspects of GM activity which the industry wishes to present as proof of a safe, environmentally and economically sound technology, but did not expose the illustrated examples to available contradictory evidence on all counts. The programme carefully avoided many know different GM crop as well as same GM crop failures. 3. The filming locations and script concentrated on “claimed legitimacy for GM agriculture” but failed to balance this with other examples. “Not one experienced serious negative was shown”. Mr Tregear said the aim of the programme was to investigate the science relating to GM crops and food, and consider whether technology might be the answer to the growing demand for food worldwide. Mr Tregear said this was clearly explained at the start of the programme, in the section Mr Tregear had referred to. Mr Tregear went on to say that Mr Doherty was well know as someone who practised “environmentally friendly” and sustainable farming and began the programme expressing his concerns about the safety of GM foods and his doubts about its potential benefits:
“I’m wondering if it’s a technology that we should all adopt. A lot of people if they hear that would think it’s a bit strange because of the way I farm. I’m all about traditional breeds, free range, that whole wholesome thing. But in terms of science and coming from a science background, I think the technology is fascinating. There needs to be a lot of science done on GM so we’ve got a better understanding, but I don’t think it’s right to straight away brush it aside as the devil’s work. Because you can’t have an opinion about something until you’ve seen all the facts; so I’m here to see all the facts.” Mr Tregear said it seemed to him that this set the tone for the programme “an open minded analysis of the facts behind the science.” Mr Tregear said he was sorry that the complainant believed the programme presented “ … a one-sided view which amounted to a ‘parade of unchallenged GM success stories’ but I have to say that wasn’t the impression I gained.” Mr Tregear went on to say that he noted the first reference to GM described it as “ … as ‘one of the most controversial solutions’ to world food shortages and throughout the programme Mr Doherty consistently reminded viewers that opinion is divided on benefits, and the risk, of GM crops.” Mr Tregear gave the example of when Mr Doherty went to Argentina to see the wide scale production of genetically modified soya beans and he explained the potential benefit that “Farmers can grow more beans using less herbicide. It’s made soya farming much more profitable and I’m wondering if it’s a technology that we should all adopt” Mr Tregear said that Mr Doherty had added that because the GM crops were grown across such a vast area, farmers were able to maximise their profits. Mr Tregear also pointed out that Mr Doherty had balanced this by referring to the need for more research into GM to ensure a better understanding of the risks and said “ … there is a downside to the soya boom – huge areas of natural forest are being burned down and cleared to make way for more fields.” Mr Tregear said this seemed to him “an appropriately even-handed and objective approach which avoided giving the kind of one-sided impression you suggest, and one which was maintained throughout the programme.”
Mr Tregear said that Mr Doherty went to Bavaria to join an anti-GM demonstration and talk to those who support direct action, but also visited an Amish community where some farmers were using a type of corn which had been modified to make it resistant to insect attack. Mr Tregear said that half way through the programme, Mr Doherty offered the following analysis: “I’ve seen how it (GM) can offer great potential for the future. I’ve seen how it has affected a country’s economy. I’ve seen a bit of the bad side. But for me, in theory at least, the science is amazing and it offers an element of hope. But there’s a couple of things that really bug me. One is the effect on human health over a long period if we’re eating the stuff. And two, the effect on the environment, which we don’t really know about yet. Mr Tregear said he was satisfied that “ … such qualified comments were sufficient to avoid giving the misleading impression that GM is irrefutably safe and environmentally sound.” Mr Tregear went on to consider the complainant’s claim that the programme deliberately did not feature any incidences of “GM crop failures” and said the complainant had cited this as further evidence of bias. Mr Tregear said he had put this claim to the programme makers. The programme makers told Mr Tregear that the content of the programme was “based on peer review scientific studies, and they were unable to find an examples of the kind to which you refer that could be substantiated by peer reviewed evidence or research.” Mr Tregear said that in the complainant’s correspondence, the complainant referred to cases of farmers’ bad experience with GM in India, South and North America but “ … from what I can establish, such evidence is largely anecdotal or circumstantial.” Mr Tregear added that the programme did reflect some of the main concerns about GM and went on to give the example about the possibility of cross contamination: “But there are also other concerns about GM crops’ impact on nature. One of the biggest is ‘gene flow’. Pollen from GM plants can cross-fertilise other closely related species and can spread the modified genes into the environment. Gene flow is a real concern and there have been documented cases of it around the world. So far the insecticidal BT genes from GM cotton hasn’t crossed into wild plants. But the scientists have to consider the consequences if it does happen.”
Mr Tregear said the point was repeated by Lord Melchett in the programme, as well as Lord Melchett’s concerns to the potential threat to wildlife. Mr Tregear said that the scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman explained at length the concerns about the threat to human beings from eating food derived from GM. Mr Tregear concluded that the “overarching impression which I think viewers would have gained was one of uncertainty about the potential benefits of GM.” Mr Tregear added while there didn’t seem to be any scientific evidence to prove that commercially grown GM crops were harmful to people, animals or the environment, there was still widespread concern about the risks. Mr Tregear added that this was covered in Point 10 Mr Tregear said that Mr Doherty had explained in his conclusion that GM crops could help to feed the world and tackle disease but there were also potential dangers. “As he said “while there are lingering doubts about the safety of GM I think we need to proceed very carefully”. Mr Tregear concluded that bearing this in mind, he did not believe the programme was one-sided or biased in the manner which was suggested by the complainant and therefore he was not upholding this aspect of the complainant’s complaint. Mr Tregear went on to consider the fourth point. 4. The programme taken en bloc generated the misleading impression that GM technology is a safe mode of cropping with yield advantage. Mr Tregear said the programme addressed both the potential benefits and the possible drawbacks of GM crops and foods. “ … there were numerous occasions when Mr Doherty highlighted the concerns about the safety of GM.” Mr Tregear said the programme included interviews with Lord Melchett and anti-GM protestors in Germany who explained their concerns about cross contamination. “ … the programme explained that many African leaders rejected supplies of GM maize because of concerns about the safety of GM (even when facing widespread famine); it explained that all GM crops (such as the purple tomato and the GM banana trials in Uganda) have to undergo lengthy and rigorous testing before they can be used commercially.”
Mr Tregear said there were interviews with experts who spoke about the threat to wildlife and the environment, and the unknown dangers of eating foods produced from GM ingredients. Mr Tregear again quoted Jimmy Doherty “This is the question that concerns me most about GM crops: are they safe to eat? There are 300 million Americans who had better hope that they’re safe because they’ve been eating them for more than 10 years, even though some people worry they might cause allergies or even cancer.” Mr Tregear said that he was unable to agree with the complainant that the programme misled the audience about the safety of GM. Mr Tregear said the complainant had also claimed that the programme gave the misleading impression that GM crops produce higher yields. Mr Tregear said he was unable to find any such reference in the programme and noted that “ … none of the GM crops currently cultivated have been modified to increase yield: the modifications are to increase resistance to herbicides and insects.” Mr Tregear concluded he therefore did not have grounds to uphold this aspect of the complainant’s complaint. Mr Tregear then considered the fifth point. 5. The programme presented “discredited claims and pretensions for GM crops” and failed to balance this with “serious scientific findings and extensive human experience of harm” such as in Asia, North and South America. Also major incidents of unapproved GM rice and corn contamination, involving extremely high cost corrective measures. Many adverse animal GM feeding studies, human health harm, livestock deaths, below par and even zero yields. The absence of such evidence from the programme indicates something very odd about the research and planning for it. It suggests influence other than chance or inadvertence.” Mr Tregear said the programme certainly highlighted some of the potential benefits of GM and “ … that seems to be both reasonable and necessary in a programme which set out to examine the science behind GM crops.” Mr Tregear said however, that he was unable to agree with the complainant’s description of “discredited claims and pretensions” 16
“ … which seemed to suggest that the programme makers knowingly misled the audience.” Mr Tregear said he had already referred to the numerous occasions when the programme highlighted the widespread doubts about GM such as cross contamination and the possible threat to the human health “ … which I believe was sufficient to address this particular concern.” Mr Tregear said he was unable to find any serious scientific findings which confirmed that GM was responsible for harm to the human health. Mr Tregear noted that the complainant had referred to the US Centre for Disease Control “ … which suggests the arrival of GM food is linked to a rise in food allergies without citing any evidential basis for this claim.” Mr Tregear said if the complainant wanted to direct him to specific studies or reports, he would be happy to review this point. Mr Tregear went on to point out that the general concern about the possible damage to animal health was acknowledged by the programme when Mr Doherty explained “ … some GM varieties grown in the laboratory have caused allergic reactions in animals.” Mr Tregear said as far as he could establish, the cases of rice and corn contamination appeared to be due to the unauthorised mixing of GM and conventional seeds. “This raised issues of procedure and regulation rather than anything to do with the science or efficacy of GM crops and so I think it was legitimate not to include it in the programme.” Mr Tregear concluded he was unable to uphold this aspect of the complainant’s complaint. Mr Tregear than addressed the sixth point. 6. The history and conduct of JIC in the development and promotion of GM seeds, their contractual relationships with the major biotech companies is unmentioned.” Mr Tregear said the John Innes centre was one of the largest plant research institutes in the world and one of the leading centres in plant genetics.
“It describes itself as ‘an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology’.” Mr Tregear said his understanding was that the majority of the funding came from the tax-payer through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Mr Tregear added that it might also receive funding from industry “ … but that is normal practise in many areas of scientific research.” Mr Tregear said the centre was featured in the programme to explain the science behind the genetic modification of plants in a way which the audience would be able to understand “ … and that seems to be entirely legitimate.” Mr Tregear said he believed viewers would understand that an organisation which carried out work into GM was likely to do so because of the potential benefits “ … and would therefore expect it to be positive about the science.” Mr Tregear concluded that he did not believe there were grounds to uphold this complaint. Mr Tregear addressed the seventh point. 7. The FDA experience and the inside regulatory knowledge of Doug Gurian-Sherman was not declared, nor was his more extensive knowledge of risk and harm of GM food ingestion elicited. This contributed to a lack of balance in the presentation of an appropriate range of views. Areas of expertise and knowledge were not clearly presented to the viewer, resulting in a misleading impression being given. Similarly interviews with Lord Melchett did not ask or attempt to draw out the greater factual basis which discredits GM agriculture. Mr Tregear said the programme-makers told him they had chosen to include Doug Gurian-Sherman in the programme because he was one of the most respected scientists in his field. Mr Tregear said he was introduced in the following way: “Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman is a biologist from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organisation that campaigns for greater regulation of GM crops.”
Mr Tregear said he appreciated that it would have been better if the programme had mentioned Dr Gurian-Sherman’s experience working for the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency “ … and on balance I think you are probably right, but I think the main question is whether the description used by the programme was accurate and gave a fair impression of Dr Gurian-Sherman’s expertise.” Mr Tregear said he believed it did and added that he believed the extensive interview with Dr Gurian-Sherman provided further evidence of his knowledge and expertise. Mr Tregear gave an example where Dr Gurian-Sherman explained why he was concerned about GM “Well I try to avoid eating genetically modified crops, not because I think that these particular crops are necessarily harmful but because I’m not confident enough in our food testing to know and to be confident if they are or not. For instance in our Food and Drug Administration there’s no set tests, there’s no long term testing, there’s no required testing in animals to see if the animal is going to be harmed which we can extrapolate potentially to humans. And you know, some people would say we Americans have been eating this for ten years and look nobody’s gotten sick. Well for one thing we clearly don’t know that. You cannot determine whether or not these crops are causing any harm unless you’re actively surveying the population and doing the right kind of studies.” Jimmy Doherty then asked Dr Gurian-Sherman if he thought “ … we should turn our back on GM technology then? Do you think it’s too much to worry about ?” Dr Gurian-Sherman replied “I think until, we have a safety testing regime in place for food safety I think we should really slow down and really think twice about commercialising these crops.” Mr Tregear said he was not able to agree with the complainant’s analysis on the interview with Lord Melchett either. Mr Tregear said Lord Melchett was a leading campaigner against GM crops in the UK and represented one of the main organisations opposed to GM. “He explained in clear and direct terms why he believes there are unacceptable risks in developing GM crops.” Mr Tregear went on to say that Lord Melchett had described GM as “really uncertain, imprecise, risky technology … there are real risks to human health that haven’t been investigated and there are risks to every other sort of farming 19
that doesn’t want to grow GM because it’s going to be contaminated and it comes in and blasts away organic for instance.” Mr Tregear said he seemed to him that both experts were allowed to express their concerns “ … clearly and eloquently..” Mr Tregear said he was not able to uphold this part of the complainant’s complaint. Mr Tregear addressed the eighth point. 8. The complainant said the programme did not explain the problematic consequences of producing GM food - claims were made as fact for claimed environmental and health advantages e.g. to the sausage testing and forlorn GM purple tomatoes, without reference to successfully produced non-GM ones. Ample statistics discredited yield claims for current GM crops. Mr Tregear said he had already explained that in his opinion, the programme gave sufficient weight to the arguments against GM crops and presented these concerns in an objective and even handed manner. However, Mr Tregear said he wanted to address the complainant’s specific concerns about the sequences involving the sausages cooked in GM soya oil and the purple tomato with high levels of anthocyanins. “The sequences of shoppers in Norwich being offered sausages cooked in either oil or GM oil was a simplistic device to demonstrate the current public resistance to GM food and see what factors might make people change their attitude.” Mr Tregear said when offered the choice between GM and GM-free, all those asked opted for GM-free. Mr Tregear went on to say that all that changed when Mr Doherty explained some of the potential benefits of GM “This one could be potentially better for the environment..” However, Mr Tregear considered it was unlikely that viewers would have been unduly influenced by such an unscientific survey. Mr Tregear said that in the case of the purple tomato “The scientist responsible for its development, Professor Cathie Martin, explained the potential health benefits but I don’t accept that her claims were presented as fact.” 20
Mr Tregear went on to say that even she acknowledged public concerns about safety and the need for further testing “I want what I have produced to be useful and beneficial to people. But I want people to be reassured that they are safe to eat, and while there are concerns because they’re genetically modified then we should go through the appropriate testing.” Mr Tregear went on to quote the conclusion on this point from Jimmy Doherty “Despite Cathie’s hope for her tomatoes, it is uncertain if they will ever make it to market. In twelve years the EU have only licensed one GM crop to be grown commercially and that is maize like the variety I saw in Germany. For now at least the scientists have lost the battle over GM in Europe.” Mr Tregear concluded that he did not agree that the claims made about the potential benefits of GM crops were presented as fact. Mr Tregear said he would not uphold this point of the complainant’s complaint. Mr Tregear addressed the ninth point. 9. No mention was made of the benefits of special trait crops already developed without GM methods e.g. drought tolerance. Mr Tregear said the programme was about the science of GM crops and its possible applications. “I therefore do not believe it was necessary to include details of developments in conventional agriculture in order to achieve the necessary balance.” Mr Tregear said the balance required was between the arguments for and against GM and he believed the programmed addressed this appropriately. Mr Tregear added that “However, I would point out that the programme did say that GM was not the only potential answer to the world’s food problems.” Mr Tregear gave the example when Jimmy Doherty explained that food production was continually declining in Africa but said “No one is suggesting that GM is the only solution to Africa’s problems.” Mr Tregear concluded he was not upholding this complaint. Mr Tregear addressed the tenth point.
10. The concluding brief caveats from Jimmy Doherty do not erase from the viewers mind the preceding bulk of the programme suggesting that everything was fine with GM agriculture, hindered only by uninformed opponents. By failing to properly cover the factual challenges to the GM idyll the Horizon programme had itself reinforced this. Mr Tregear said that he believed Mr Doherty’s summary at the end of the programme was a considered conclusion based on the evidence he had gathered. “It reflected his enthusiasm for the potential benefits of GM but also repeated some of the concerns which had been raised previously in the programme, both in Mr Doherty’s script and in various interviews (with contributors who are regarded by their peers as informed experts). Mr Tregear said he hoped that the extracts of the programme he had transcribed helped to demonstrate that the anti-GM view was given appropriate weight. Mr Tregear concluded that he did not believe the programme gave an inaccurate impression of the science behind GM or that viewers would have been misled. Mr Tregear also pointed out that “ … all the studies by leading independent scientific organisations appear to have reached the same conclusion: there is no evidence that GM crops currently produced commercially have any negative effect on human or animal health, but all future crops should be extensively tested to make sure they are safe before they enter the food chain.” Mr Tregear went onto quote from the World Health Organisation report in 2005, a 2002 Royal Society Report, and a recent study from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Mr Tregear concluded with a quote from a recent media interview from Professor Robert Watson, the head of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development about the role he saw for biotechnology. “The only part of biotechnology that is really controversial is transgenics. I think the first question we have to ask is if you are a small scale farmer in Africa are transgenics the only answer and the answer’s no. There are many …if they had access to the best seeds, access to the best nutrients, access in some cases to the other inputs such as water for irrigation , they could significantly increase their productivity. Could the form of biotechnology that’s controversial, transgenics, play a role, yes it could potentially play a role. We are going to have think through how we can increase productivity, how we can have more temperature or drought tolerant or pest tolerant plants, biotechnology,, even modern biotechnology may play a role so we’ve got to continue doing research but we must ask ourselves the question: 22
What are the risks and benefits? And it needs to be, it has to be nuanced, we have to ask it in specific systems, we have to ask is it publicly acceptable, who benefits, is it the farmer, is it the seed companies, is it the consumer? I believe we should continue to invest in all forms of biotechnology but make sure we ask the questions about the risks and benefits on a case by case basis.” Mr Tregear said that although he had not upheld the complainant’s complaint, he would he happy to consider any additional points the complainant might want to add. The complainant replied to Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) on 8 June 2009 The complainant said the BBC appeared to recognise that GM plant development was a contentious subject but had chosen to disregard why it was so. “This enables the ‘error’ of entrusting influence and guidance on programme construction and editing to person(s) who have a major commitment to furthering GM plant activity and acceptance. I realise this may be the easiest thing to do when making science programmes.” The complainant said that recombinant DNA technology’s manifest hazards and uncertainties “ … which had caused it to be put back in the cupboard in the 1970s could not be adequately addressed.” The complainant said that if they were there would be no market and no technology “ … and of course no patent monopoly over the world’s food stock, Instead US corporate-government collusion created tailored legislative evasion of proper safety.” The complainant went on to say that all key US government departments and officials had vigorously promoted GM adoption in Britain and around the world. “Both Thatcher and Blair eagerly obliged. Likewise has the European Commission …” The complainant went on to say that he believed taxpayer funding of plant science institutions was shifted by government funding policy in the Thatcher era “ … to privatise research serving the ends of primary client/partners, the multinational plant biotech companies.” The complainant added that this determined what work got done and channelled public grant to fulfil corporate objectives.
The complainant went on to give his views about the John Innes Centre which he said was a … high level example with previously identified over-commitment to GM technology. It has no credible claim for its staff or activities as ‘independent’ on the issue of GM techniques in plant breeding..” The complainant added that the extensive contracts between such institutions, their various entities and corporate clients were not transparent to the public. The complainant said that the UK government was no more than a co-operative tool for the biotech industry. “We have industry convenient legislation and taxpayer expenditure to facilitate GM crop development and pushing of public opinion in favour of GM foodstuffs and crops.” The complainant said that the advisors selected by the government were those with interest and connections served by JIC, SCRI and others. The complainant questioned if Jimmy Doherty had selected the topics, locations and footage as well as authoring his script and came to the conclusion that Mr Doherty had not done this. The complainant concluded “The ‘editorial judgement’ in all matters appears to have been heavily influenced by person(s) active in the promotion of GM plant science.” The complainant appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust, the third and final stage of the BBC’s complaints procedure on 8 June 2009 The complainant said he did not find the response from the Editorial Complaints Unit to be sufficient. The complainant repeated the points he had made in his letter of 8 June 2009 to Colin Tregear, Complaints Director, Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). The complainant went on to comment on several points made in the findings from Mr Tregear. The complainant included several weblinks in his appeal. The complainant started with Point 3, Argentina “Mr Doherty explained the POTENTIAL benefit that farmers CAN grow more beans using LESS herbicide. It’s made soya farming MUCH MORE PROFITABLE and I’m wondering if it’s a technology that we should all adopt.” 24
“However, he balanced this by referring to the need for more research into GM to ensure a better understanding of the risks and said – ‘ there is a downside to the soya boom – huge areas of natural forest are being burned down and cleared to make way for more fields.” The complainant commented on the words ‘ POTENTIAL.. CAN grow MORE using LESS herbicide.’ “But this is not the straightforward statement saying there is actual benefit … nor that it does grow more – and does use less.” The complainant went on to say “This is a GM spinster classic. They can’t say the latter – because it isn’t true. These claimed benefits have been shown as putative.” The complainant said that such producer and biotech claims abounded but the evidence was different. “Herbicide tolerance and weed resistance has caused nothing other than increase in application of both linked herbicides and supplementary spraying with higher powered herbicides to cope with the vicious circle problem. Costs have correspondingly risen and get passed on. Yields are not greater.” The complainant went on to quote several weblinks. The complainant commented on the Norwich sausage tasting. “Jimmy’s few follow on words cannot make a ‘balance’ to this travesty of truth. ‘ Need for more research to understand the risks.’ The complainant added “When we faced an already out of control hazardous technology – that is an absurdity. The risks are well known and long stated – it’s just that they are systematically ignored.” The complainant commented on several statements from Jimmy Doherty including “ … but a couple of things bug me – the effect on human health over a long period.. and the effect on the environment, which we don’t really know about yet.” The complainant said “So what does Jim do about these bugs? Does he explore or discuss any of the many recording findings of environmental damage or disadvantage which
we do know about – perhaps even the UK farm scale trials which led to UK government rejection of GM oil seed rape in 2005?” The complainant again listed several weblinks. The complainant next considered the following statement from Mr Tregear “I put this point to the programme makers … the programme was based on peer reviewed scientific studies.” The complainant commented “which peer reviewed findings support the ‘wonder’ stories of the GM tomato and GM banana? Let alone the ‘MORE and LESS’ fantasy of GM soya? … The programme was built on selected examples of biotech hype – then dressed to give semblance of balance.” The complainant included several weblinks about peer review. The complainant next considered the fourth point in Mr Tregear’s findings “The programme addressed both potential benefits and the possible drawbacks of GM …” The complainant said this was “ … more ‘potential’, where’s the Actual, after near 20 years? And the ‘possible drawbacks’ … No it briefly mentioned a few ‘drawbacks’, otherwise known as major risks … but went nowhere near all the serious negatives ….” The complainant considered the fifth point in Mr Tregear’s findings, the major GM contamination events “ … due to unauthorised mixing of GM and conventional seeds.. issues of procedure and regulation rather than anything to do with science or efficacy of GM..” The complainant said they were very much to do with the behaviour of “ … GM constructs, their facility to contaminate and lack of integrity in the biotech industry and its doings.” The complainant highlighted 16 listed UK incidents on the GM Contamination Register. The complainant commented on the seventh point in Mr Tregear’s findings which concerned Lord Melchett and Doug Gurian-Sherman “ … allowed to express their concerns..” 26
The complainant asked if Lord Melchett believed he had a fair opportunity to offer his concerns “ … and that it was part of a ‘balanced’ programme? I understand that he did not so believe and may even have made a complaint about the ‘balance’ of the Horizon programme …” The complainant concluded “I do better understand from Mr Tregear’s ‘researched and advised’ responses how the BBC can be co-opted into producing, broadcasting then justifying an unbalanced and misleading programme covering a contentious subject. Their trimming it to give an appearance of balance fails to do so.” Ruby Seehra, Team Assistant, BBC Trust replied to the complainant on 17 June 2009 Ms Seehra told the complainant his complaint would be reviewed in order to determine if it qualified for appeal by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee. On 4 August Michael Fadda, editorial assistant , BBC Trust emailed the complainant to ask him if he could formulate his appeal to the Trust in a thousand words or less in order for this note and the ESC’s deliberations to be focussed on the core of the complaint. The complainant replied on 6 August with in effect the first thousand words of his previous letter to the Trust. The investigation and consideration part of the note at (4) below essentially address the issues raised in this second letter. 3. Applicable editorial standards Section 4 – Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion Introduction Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC's commitment to its audiences. It applies across all of our services and output, whatever the format, from radio news bulletins via our web sites to our commercial magazines and includes a commitment to reflecting a diversity of opinion. The Agreement accompanying the BBC's Charter requires us to produce comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the UK and throughout the world to support fair and informed debate. It specifies that we should do all we can to treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and impartiality in our news services and other programmes dealing with matters of public policy or of political or industrial controversy. It also states that the BBC is
forbidden from expressing an opinion on current affairs or matters of public policy other than broadcasting. Special considerations apply during the campaign periods for elections. In practice, our commitment to impartiality means: we seek to provide a properly balanced service consisting of a wide range of subject matter and views broadcast over an appropriate time scale across all our output. We take particular care when dealing with political or industrial controversy or major matters relating to current public policy. we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented. we exercise our editorial freedom to produce content about any subject, at any point on the spectrum of debate as long as there are good editorial reasons for doing so. we can explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed, but in doing so we do not misrepresent opposing views. They may also require a right of reply. we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects. the approach to, and tone of, BBC stories must always reflect our editorial values. Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC, they can have a significant impact on the perceptions of our impartiality. our journalists and presenters, including those in news and current affairs, may provide professional judgments but may not express personal opinions on matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC programmes or other BBC output the personal views of our journalists and presenters on such matters … we must rigorously test contributors expressing contentious views during an interview whilst giving them a fair chance to set out their full response to our questions. we should not automatically assume that academics and journalists from other organisations are impartial and make it clear to our audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint. Achieving impartiality Impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to our output. Our approach to achieving it will therefore vary according to the nature of the subject, the type of output, the likely audience expectation and the extent to which the content and approach is signposted to our audiences. Impartiality is described in the Agreement as "due impartiality". It requires us to be fair and open minded when examining the evidence and weighing all the material facts, as well as being objective and even handed in our approach to a subject. It does
not require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view. News, in whatever form, must be presented with due impartiality. Controversial subjects In the United Kingdom controversial subjects are issues of significance for the whole of the country, such as elections, or highly contentious new legislation on the eve of a crucial Commons vote, or a UK wide public sector strike. In the nations and regions of the UK, controversial subjects are those which have considerable impact on the nation or region. They include political or industrial issues or events which are the subject of intense debate or relate to a policy under discussion or already decided by local government. In the global context, some controversial subjects such as national elections or referendums will obviously have varying degrees of global significance but will be of great sensitivity in that country or region in which they are taking place. We should always remember that much of the BBC's output is now available in most countries across the world. We must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight in the period during which a controversial subject is active. Personal view, authored programmes & websites We have a tradition of allowing a wide range of individuals, groups or organisations to offer a personal view or opinion, express a belief, or advance a contentious argument in our programmes or on our websites. Personal views can range from the outright expression of highly partial views by a campaigner, to the authored view of a specialist or professional including an academic, scientist, or BBC correspondent, to those expressed through contributions from our audiences. Each can add to the public understanding and debate, especially when they allow our audience to hear fresh and original perspectives on well-known issues. Content reflecting personal views, or authored by an individual, group or organisation, or contributed by our audiences, particularly when dealing with controversial subjects, should be clearly signposted to audiences in advance. Personal view and authored programmes and websites have a valuable part to play in our output. However when covering controversial subjects dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy we should: retain a respect for factual accuracy. fairly represent opposing viewpoints when appropriate. provide an opportunity to respond when appropriate for example in a prearranged discussion programme. ensure that a sufficiently broad range of views and perspectives is included in output of a similar type and weight and in an appropriate time frame. Conflict of Interest
The BBC's reputation for impartiality and objectivity is crucial. The public must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes and services. Our audiences need to be confident that the outside activities of our programme makers or presenters do not undermine the BBC's impartiality and that editorial decisions are not influenced by any commercial or personal interests. Conflicts of interest can arise for anyone who appears on air or has responsibility for the content of a programme or service or associated activity. Presenters, reporters, producers, editors and researchers are all affected. There may be particular sensitivities concerning on-air talent. For editorial staff the greater the level of responsibility the greater the need to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Each programme department or team will need to identify its area of vulnerability. The BBC should be satisfied that everyone involved in editorial decisions and programme making is free from inappropriate outside commitments. The principles apply equally to freelances or staff. It is also important that independent producers should not have any interests which could undermine the integrity and impartiality of the programmes or websites which they produce for the BBC. It may also be appropriate to consider whether the position of families and close personal contacts presents a likely conflict of interest. 4. Investigation and considerations. I have watched the programme, read the transcript and conducted some internet research. I have had conversations and email exchanges with the production team and with Editorial Policy. I would first like to deal with the “conflict of interest” allegation by the complainant. The latest version of his complaint concludes: “I still await clarification of the relationship between Horizon producer Michael Lachmann and gm activist Sir Peter Lachmann.” And the letter is imbued with the suggestion that this relationship secretly defined the agenda and impartiality of the programme: “The 'editorial judgement' in these matters appears to have been highly influenced by person(s) (unnamed) involved in the promotion or advocacy of gm plant science.” And: “They have thereby entrusted influence and guidance on programme construction and editing to person(s) who have a major commitment to furthering gm plant activity and acceptance.”
And: “The process and responses thus far show how the BBC can be co-opted into producing, broadcasting a misleading programme covering a contentious science subject, dressed as 'balanced' and thereafter referring to essentially the same eminence gris to proclaim it justified.” I thought this a serious set of allegations, core to the complaint, and addressed it in detail. I spoke to Andrew Cohen, Editor of Horizon, who told me that Sir Peter Lachmann is indeed the father of Michael. Sir Peter, a Cambridge Professor of Immunology of great eminence, chaired the Royal Society expert group which produced the Society's first report on GM crops in 1998. Entitled 'Genetically Modified Plants for Food Use', it concluded that technology had the potential to offer benefits in food quality, nutrition and public health, and had important implications for agricultural practice both in Britain and in the developing world. Since then, Sir Peter has been involved in several heated debates over GM. Andrew Cohen had asked Michael Lachmann to make the film without any prior knowledge of his father’s involvement in the GM issue: “Michael then told me immediately about his father and we discussed it. I wanted clarification so we referred it to editorial policy – to Sue [sic] Pennington. I myself thought that we employed Michael himself and not his father but I was critically aware of the delicacy of the subject and he embraced that so absolutely that it would have been wrong to remove him from the project” There was then a meeting between Su Pennington at Editorial Policy and Michael Lachmann at which the conflict issues were discussed fully. “He came to me and said "Should I take myself off the project though I don't have views one way or the other on GM?" He had never entered the debate nor been part of any movement.” Su Pennington said that it seemed to her in principle clear that just because a relative holds beliefs or has a specific job, that doesn't mean his son would share his beliefs or is conflicted. She added: “His job is as a science producer on Horizon - which means he has to take an independent view under the editorial guidelines. It would have been wrong to say he could not do it because of who his father was. It would have been unfair to him to take him off the programme with no evidence of bias.” She thought he had done exactly the right thing in declaring the connection:
“Knowing Michael's declaration, we were extra keen to make sure that everything was completely even- handed in that programme.”
The Committee will want to discuss whether there was a conflict of interest that affected the programme as broadcast. It may want to examine the demonstrated propriety of immediately revealing a connection, consulting the Editor of the programme and also Editorial Policy. It may wish to consider if any other step was required. Amongst the possible steps would have been removing Michael Lachmann from the programme. The Committee may wish to examine if this would have been an appropriate step and whether it would have been a proportionate response given the full disclosure. There is no mechanism for making such a disclosure of connection transparent to viewers, but it would have been possible to make it clear to the complainant that full disclosure had been made and editorial policy advice taken, considerably earlier in the complaints’ process. I will address the rest of the complaint as it occurs in the complainant’s revised letter to the Trust. 1. “The BBC appears to recognise that gm plant development is a contentious subject, but the Horizon makers have particularly chosen to disregard Why This is So.” Michael Lachmann’s response is that this is what the whole programme is about. The Committee will note that questions about the safety and efficacy of GM occur in the script and questioning throughout the programme. Here for example near the beginning: “I realise know that the way I produce food won’t feed the world. But a lot of people think the only way to do that is to use biotechnology – GM crops. And I’m not sure about that – I don’t know if it’s safe or not – I don’t know what the consequences are. But what if the answer to feeding the hungry is to use biotechnology?”
And here from about 10 minutes in. “So far I’ve seen different stories in terms of GM. I’ve seen how it can offer great potential for the future. I’ve seen how it has affected a country’s economy. I’ve seen a bit of the bad side. But for me – in theory at least- the science is amazing, and it offers an element of hope.
But there’s a couple of things that really bug me. One is the effect on human health over a long period if we’re eating the stuff. And two the effect on the environment which we don’t really know about yet.” This interrogative approach continues all the way through. This is the programme conclusion: “My journey into the world of GM has been a real eye-opener and the one thing that stands out for me is how it’s an issue divided the world. In Europe people prepared to take the law into our own hands to protest against the technology – but in much of the rest of the world they’re planting it on more and more land every year. Which is the right way to go? Well I don’t think the crops that are being grown at the moment are going to save the world. They’re good for farmers and they’re good profits – but while there are lingering doubts about the safety of GM I think we need to proceed very carefully. But we do need to proceed. The prospects of foods that could help prevent cancer or resist drought or even disease show the potential that GM technology could have. I think it’s madness that we turn away from this technology. It might not be here at the moment – but 10-15 – 20 – 50 years time I mean that technology could be so useful. It has great potential to feed the hungry But that will only ever happen is we carry our some experiments and I think if you’re for GM or against it – you’ve got to be for understanding whatever your argument is – you’ve got to be into finding out knowledge – and without testing we’ll never know – we’ll live in the darkness.” So the ESC could conclude that in calling for more investigation, the programme is lacking in impartiality. But would that be a breach of the guideline on due impartiality? The audience might legitimately expect a science programmes to call for more scientific investigation: it’s what scientists do. It is calling for understanding and knowledge - is this a breach of the impartiality guidelines? 2. “Recombinant dna technology's manifest hazards and uncertainties which caused it to be put back in the cupboard in the 1970s are not openly and adequately addressed.” The programme producer told me that recombinant DNA technology wasn't 'put back in the cupboard' in the 1970s. He said that that was the decade in which the recombinant technology was invented and revolutionised biological science. 33
Michael Lachmann told me: “I assume he is referring to a voluntary moratorium that was placed on the recombinant technology in 1974 - until a conference could be held to discuss and assess the potential hazards of what was at the time a very new technology. That conference was held at Asilomar in Monterrey1975 and laid the way for the future of recombinant DNA technology by lifting the moratorium and laying down the guidelines through which the research should proceed safely. In the 35 years since then the technology has become one of the most power ful techniques in modern science - as well as facilitating basic science it is used to create medicines and vaccines, it creates the yeast that ferments your wine and the chymosin that goes in all hard cheeses. Recombinant DNA technology is everywhere without there being widespread concern over its 'manifest hazards and uncertainties'. So I don't really see how these 'concerns' about recombinant DNA in particular are relevant to us. What there are concerns about is the use of the technology in GM crops that are then grown freely in the environment - and we do address these concerns in the programme. They are brought up by Lord Melchett, Doug Gurian-Sherman, and by Jimmy himself in discussion of gene flow and its potential consequences - and are part of the reason why Jim comes to the conclusion that “crops that are being grown at the moment are not going to save the world. They’re good for farmers and they’re good profits – but while there are lingering doubts about the safety of GM I think we need to proceed very carefully” Does the ESC think the programme demonstrated due impartiality in addressing concerns about GM foods in relation to recombinant DNA 3. One example from the Horizon prog. - The JIC 'tragic tale of the unloved gm purple tomato' - skilfully managing not to mention that there was already a conventionally bred Italian one - without a hazardous gene jumble!” Just to remind you, the relevant script was: “JD When will people be able to start buying this crop then? CM When the regulations allow us to do it. And that means we have to go through a lot of tests because it’s a genetically modified crop. JD But conventionally you don’t have to do any testing. It can go straight out to market and people can eat it. CM Yes 34
JD But you have to go through rigorous testing. CM Yes JD How does that make you feel because you obviously spend a lot of time doing this? CM Umm - Sanguine – I want what I have produced to be useful and beneficial to people. But I want people to be reassured that they are safe to eat, and while there are concerns because they’re genetically modified then we should go through the appropriate testing. Comm Despite Cathie’s hope for her tomatoes it is uncertain if they will ever make it to market. In twelve years the EU have only licensed one GM crop to be grown commercially – and that is maize like the variety I saw in Germany. For now at least the scientists have lost the battle over GM in Europe.” The response from Michael Lachmann was: “The GM tomato is an exemplar of the power of the GM technique. The Italian tomato is not comparable with the GM one. The Italian tomatoes only produce anthocyanins in the skin of the fruit – not the flesh – and they contain a maximum of 5% of the amount of anthocyanins produced by the John Innes tomatoes. And they haven’t been through any health or testing studies as the John Innes tomatoes have.” In correspondence with another complainant who went direct to the programme he gave a fuller response: “The programme pointed out the GM tomatoes will have to undergo a full health safety and environmental risk assessment. There is ample evidence that a diet rich in flavonoids, like anthocyanins, has a preventative effect on many diseases including cancer.21 There is also evidence that these GM tomatoes have a positive health impact in mammalian systems. They have been tested on cancer prone mice – and were found to significantly extend their life-spans.22 We were unable to include these results in the programme because at the time of completion they had not been accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal. As 35
you will know from the press coverage the paper has subsequently passed peer review and been published. It is irrelevant that similar purple tomatoes have been bred by other means in Italy. However you should note that the Italian tomatoes are not the same. They only produce anthocyanins in the skin of the fruit – not the flesh – and they contain a maximum of 5% of the amount of anthocyanins produced by the John Innes tomatoes.” The ESC will want to consider whether the script and interview contained enough questioning and balancing material to be duly impartial. Does the omission of the Italian tomatoes which are not GM from a section specifically about GM production go to impartiality? 4. “While a supposedly 'impartial' Jimmy Docherty fronted the Horizon programme, who identified the particular gm examples, locations and footage and authored his autocue script? Who carefully avoided including reference to any of the many gm crop failures and 'collateral' damage, as routinely done by the industry and its academic acolytes?” The programme was called “Jimmy’s GM Food Fight” and was clearly intended to be seen as the presenter’s views and exploration of the issues. Is it “authored” under the guidelines? The producer’s opinion is that it clearly was. He told me that there was no autocue script written for Jimmy Docherty and that the presenter had authored the whole piece – though of course there had been discussions with the production team. Michael Lachmann told me that the team had set up the locations but that the presenter had essentially decided what he wanted to say at them and that the opinions expressed were his own. He told me: “We made sure he saw both the pro-side and the anti-side. And that he talked to people from both sides.” While there were no specific references to “gm crop failures” there were several instances of reference to possible dangers and disadvantages and two extensive interviews with those opposing GM development. The script contained qualifiers and appeared to make very few unqualified assertions about the benefits of GM. The ESC may want to decide whether this was an authored programme within the meaning of the guidelines and whether these were obeyed for its duration. 4. “A broadcaster and its staff unable to withstand biocorporate-government enticements, or resist donning biotech blinkers in order to relay gm hype, is destined to repeat its public disservice”
I can find no evidence of “biocorporate – government enticements” and do not know on what this statement can be based – unless on the perceived conflict of interest addressed above. It’s rather a serious allegation but one that is rather difficult to investigate without some specifics of “enticements” being offered or accepted in this case. The ESC may consider that this last complaint is an expression of the dissatisfaction the complainant has with the programme’s impartiality generally. It may not therefore require specific consideration under the guidelines.
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